In an open letter to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, several security experts and human rights groups have expressed concerns about the danger posed by the UK’s End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) Internet Safety Act.
The letter signatories stress that with UK residents and businesses now relying more than ever on E2EE to secure themselves, the government must ensure that online security law does not impede encryption in private communications.
“Encryption is critical to ensuring that online users are protected online, to building economic security through a pro-business UK economy that can overcome the cost of living crisis, and to ensure national security,” the message To the Prime Minister’s countries.
“As you begin your new role as Prime Minister, the undersigned civil society organizations and companies, including members of the Global Crypto Alliance, urge you and your government to ensure that encryption is not weakened.”
Campaign groups warn that existing provisions of the Online Safety Act will erode encryption in private communications, reducing the internet security of UK citizens and businesses, including the very groups the Online Safety Bill seeks to protect.
They also argue that these proposals would endanger freedom of expression, which they claim is an important aspect of a free society that distinguishes the UK from aggressors who use repression and force to achieve their ends.
The Internet Safety Bill may be up for debate in the British Parliament again as early as next week.
Legal, but harmful
Parliamentary debate on the bill was postponed throughout the summer and again in October as a result of political unrest within the ruling Conservative Party.
The government has hinted that it wants to make amendments to the draft, although it is expected that these changes will focus on provisions related to the so-called The words “legal but harmful”.
During this summer’s Conservative Party leadership race, Rishi Sunak expressed concerns about the potential for the bill to stifle freedom of expression, as the government would have the power to classify information as “legal but harmful”. He promised to amend Article 14, which would have given social media companies the right to delete offensive comments they did not approve of.
The case against government backdoors
Privacy advocates claim that various proposals made by various governments in recent years to screen user-to-user communications for criminal content are flawed because they are based on the false assumption that a backdoor or other workaround for reading encrypted messages can only be created to be used in beneficial ways.
“This is not the case, and it never will be.” They argueadding that criminals, domestic abusers, and authoritarian regimes would benefit from backdoors such as those proposed by the Internet Safety Act.
“We all deserve the protection that end-to-end encryption provides, but the most vulnerable in society – children and members of vulnerable communities – need it most.”
Welcome to the bill
Meanwhile, child safety groups welcomed the return of the Online Safety Bill to parliament.
Susie Hargreaves, executive director of the Internet Watch Foundation, which organizes efforts to combat child abuse images online, hailed the bill’s return as a “relief”.
“We have seen that the threats to people, particularly children, online are not going away, and we know there will be a need for strong and clear action if the UK is to realize its aim of being the safest place in the world to go online,” she said.
“Now, we need to see lawmakers band together towards a common goal. The police, charities and big tech companies are all doing an enormous amount of work, and clear guidance from the government would be a welcome boost.”